Order of Rank & Aristocracy | Beyond Good and Evil §257-258
Order of Rank & Aristocracy | Beyond Good and Evil §257-258


Part Nine of Beyond Good and Evil begins with
sections 257 and 258, in which Nietzsche describes the importance and function of aristocracy
in the spiritual advance of humanity. All advances in human culture, writes Nietzsche,
have been led by aristocratic societies. Spiritual evolution requires a strong order
of rank – a key concept in Nietzsche’s thought. He explains how the social and the spiritual
are linked. The “pathos of distance” between higher
and lower ranks of men, constantly reinforced by practices that keep the noble self aloof
and keep the lower orders down, this pathos leads to a similar elevation in the soul. The social and psychological institutions
of aristocracy power the human drive to self-overcoming, or self-transcendence. Nietzsche ends this section by dispelling
any romantic illusions his readers may have. Aristocratic cultures always begin in violence
and subjugation. Barbarians, strong but crude in both culture
and spirit, sweep down on peaceful, weak, corrupt, “more civilized” peoples. But their dominance is not merely physical,
but spiritual. They are more fully human in every sense of
the word, and thus also more fully beasts. Section 258 describes the conditions of healthy
and corrupt aristocracies. For an example of a corrupt aristocracy, Nietzsche
cites the nobility of prerevolutionary France. They threw away their privileges in order
to indulge their moral vanity. This was the final act in their centuries-long
abasement before the monarchy. By contrast, writes Nietzsche, a healthy aristocracy
sees itself not as a function or partner of any other social institution, but rather as
the meaning and justification of all other classes and institutions. Thus a healthy noble class accepts that countless
other human beings must, for its sake, be lowered to the status of incomplete human
beings, not fully human. They have a fundamental faith that society
and other humans exist for them, not they for it. Nietzsche compares them to the sun-seeking
vines of Java, which grow up around the tallest trees, until they reach the canopy and can
unfold their full glory in the sun. Here Nietzsche seems to be describing a corporate
will to power, the confident strength of will of a noble class to dominate weaker elements
in society, and to accept the human suffering that domination entails without self-doubt
or rational qualms. Let me pose three questions about Nietzsche’s
claims in these sections. First, a historical question: is his account
of the origin and advance of human societies accurate? Do societies in fact advance through the domination
of barbarian conquerors? Second, is Nietzsche justified in extending
this historical observation into human psychology? Is social order of rank a necessary condition
for the advance of the higher parts of the human spirit? Third, does acceptance of the human costs
of one’s social order indicate a strong spirit? Is Nietzsche right to suggest that second
thoughts and humanitarian qualms are a source of corruption and weakness? That’s my summary of and commentary on sections
257 and 258 of Beyond Good and Evil. Thanks for watching today; goodbye.

1 thought on “Order of Rank & Aristocracy | Beyond Good and Evil §257-258”

  1. Dead meme says:

    Your videos are so helpful!

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